In the Midlands and the North, the ultimate TV station starts the day.
ABC WEEKEND TELEVISION – NORTH (1956-1968)
Notional Date: June 1964
Announcers: John Benson, Jill Bechley
Music: Perpetuum Mobile (Roberts), used 1962-1968; ABC March (Bliss), used 1956-1968
At one and the same time, the ABC start-up routine manages to be both an industry standard, and a daring departure from the norm. A departure, in that the choice of two company theme tunes with the Authority announcement between did away with the need for a pause in the main theme to make the announcement. This meant the company symbol could form up with its own discrete piece of music and not be reliant upon a crescendo in the main piece.
ABC were a company very conscious of the need to promote their name and image. This they did with non-stop gusto, throughout the sixties.
With a two day weekend contract in the North and Midlands, they found it essential to fight back against the five day domination of Granada and ATV respectively. Their chosen method was strong and dynamic branding, and the daily opening routine set the standard for the rest of the day.
Perpetuum Mobile was composed by Michael Roberts, a member of the company staff who wrote string music as a hobby. At three minutes and three seconds it was only just long enough to cover the minimum time the tuning signal required. Accordingly, the company symbol which followed had its own music.
Perpetuum was not the first piece ABC had used. In the early years Busy Batchelor and Mr Punch had been tried, but with a major revamp of ABC style at the end of the fifties, Perpetuum was introduced and together with its later use by ABC when they became Thames, was the stalwart of the genre for almost thirty years.
Taking ABC and Thames together, this was the longest lived start-up theme in Independent Television history, and the only one to have been used in all four major regions, over time.
The symbol form up over the second piece, the ABC March, is the principal ‘tour de force’ of television ident graphics of the sixties. It makes no bones about being an icon, intending to be one, exhorting the viewer to give respect to the authority of the station and taking a declamatory tone throughout. The pulsating triangle is screen size and dominant, the serif letters neat and symmetrical beneath.
This 28 second piece was also used as a local ident from time to time, and was always the choice for lunchtime closedowns after the Sunday morning service.
The crisp and businesslike tones of John Benson are heard between the pieces, giving the standard Authority announcement. For collectors of these licensing statements this is both definitive and stylish. The wording conveys authority, the intonation and inflection is word perfect but the use of the non-standard ‘you’re tuned to’ very daring for the time, adding real character. Amongst collectors of these gems, this is considered a great example of station identification. Listen to the way he mentions ‘channels nine and ten’ giving absolute equality of status to both.
John Benson was regarded by many in the trade, as the definitive Independent Television continuity announcer of the sixties. He was with ABC for thirteen years, and went on to work for Thames thereafter.
When ABC moved to London in 1968, they took these start-up practices with them, only substituting the Thames music for the ABC March.
This approach to company identity set the standard for many other companies to follow. The ABC Midland start-up was similar, but used John Edmunds, and later Bill Steel for the recorded announcement.
ABC and ATV were each contracted to produce 22 Sunday morning services per year, with STV, Anglia, Southern and TWW producing two each. These ABC and ATV church broadcasts came from all over the country, usually from the same town as had hosted their outside broadcast vans for football matches the day before.
The churches were often outside the company areas, but this was an economical measure that made good sense. The ABC Teddington fleet could easily cover a London service, and this was never a problem for rival ATV.
It is the elegance of this start-up routine, from an age without electronic caption creation, that inspired the original Transdiffusion children, and created their interest in television presentation as a hobby. We have a lot to thank ABC for today.
This article originally appeared on Transdiffusion before 2001. It has been republished with the addition of the animated ABC start-up recreation by Dave Jeffery.